Pondering the Great Reversal That Is Coming

One of the strong traditions of Scripture is of the great reversal that will one day come for many. I have often been sobered by it when I consider how blessed I have been in this life. I have also been consoled by it when I struggle to understand why some people in this world seem to suffer so much more that I do, or others do.

Life seems a very uneven proposition if we only look at this side of the equation. Only God sees the whole picture, but to some extent, he has revealed that those who have suffered much in this life will be more than rewarded in the life to come and that there will be a great reversal.

The theme of the great reversal is most fully developed in the New Testament where the understanding of the life to come is also most developed.

Consider the following texts:

  1. [Jesus said], “But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.” (Matt 19:30 & also Matt 20:16 & also Mark 10:31)
  2. [Mary said], “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; but the rich he has sent away empty.” (Lk 1:52-53)
  3. Abraham replied [to the rich man], ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. (Luke 16:25)
  4. Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way. (Luke 6:21-26)
  5. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. (Luke 12:48)
  6. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. (Rom 8:18)
  7. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor 4:17-18)

There are other texts, and I am grateful if you will add to this list. But, for now, let these suffice. As I have said, I am both challenged and consoled by these texts.

I am consoled for I, like others, have suffered in this life and experienced set backs. In regards to this, the Lord promises that sufferings and set backs, if endured with faith, produce ultimate profit, not loss. Much of this profit may wait till heaven, but surely sufferings endured with faith are like treasure stored up in heaven. First the cross, but then the crown. Hallelujah.

I am also consoled on account of others. I, like you, know people who have suffered far more than seems fair. Loss after loss mounts up, grief after grief. My humanity recoils, and I often cry to God on behalf of others who seem to suffer so much more than others. Lost health, lost jobs, lost home and family members. Why, O Lord?!

I think of my poor sister who was mentally ill and horribly afflicted by demons and voices who spoke to her, haunted her, and robbed her increasingly of any touch with reality. Ultimately her life ended tragically when she died in a fire. She was surely among the “last” in this life. But she loved God and wanted desperately to get well. The day after she died I offered Mass for her, and I heard her speak to me in the depth of my heart and she said “I’m OK now, Charlie.” And somehow I knew that God was taking care of her, purifying and clearing her mind.

And I also knew that she who was among the last but believed, I would one day see as among the first in the glory of heaven (pray God I get there). I suspect that she will be close to the throne and that I, who have been among the first here in this world, will have a “mansion” far less spacious than hers.

I am consoled for my sister’s sake and also for those who, unlike me, live in great poverty in other parts of the world. The bounty of American living is but a dream to them. Perhaps there is war. Perhaps there is famine or natural disaster. Perhaps they are victims of despotic and corrupt governments. They are less free, less blessed, in greater stress and often in desperate need. They are among the “last” in this world. But, if they have faith, they will be blessed to be among the first in the great reversal that is coming when the Kingdom fully breaks in. Faith IS essential. Jesus did not say all the last shall be first but that many who are last shall be first. I am sure that it is living faith that makes the difference.

But I am also challenged. I am among those who are first. What does this say for me in the great reversal that is coming upon this world? I have good health, I enjoy bountiful blessings. I am more blessed that I deserve. I live in the greatest, richest, and most powerful country in the world. My needs are largely provided for. I am here in my air-conditioned room with time enough to write and ponder things. I am far beyond mere subsistence. I am surely among the first, the rich. Even the poorest in this country are blessed compared to many others in the world.

Where shall I be when the first trumpet sounds, when the great reversal sets in?

Not everything is as it appears. We crave wealth, power and access and call it a blessing. We want to be first. But God warns it may well be a curse:

Those who want to be rich are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains. (1 Tim 6:9-10).

Knowing this and other texts like it, we still want to be rich, on top, first. We are very obtuse.

And so, I must say I am challenged. I am not defeated however or fatalistic. God has not utterly forsaken the “first.” He has left us a way and given us instruction on how to avoid the “curse” of our wealth and good fortune. Simply put, that we should use our status as “first” to bless others. That our many gifts would be placed at the service of the human family. A few texts come to mind:

  1. [Jesus said], “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with deceitful wealth, so that when it fails, they [likely the poor whom we befriended] will welcome you into eternal dwellings.” (Luke 16:9)
  2. Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life. (1 Tim 6:17-19)

And so it is that the Lord instructs us who are “cursed” to be first to store up our true treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19). Of course we do not store up our treasure in heaven by putting it in a balloon or rocket. Rather we store it up by generously dispensing it to the poor and needy. Perhaps by simple gift, or by providing jobs and economic opportunity for others. Perhaps by sharing our gifts of knowledge, or time or other talents. In so doing perhaps our curse of being among the first will be overcome and the challenge will be met.

The great reversal is coming! Where will I be when the first trumpet sounds?

This Chant of the funeral Mass refers to the great reversal but prays that the deceased will be found with Lazarus who once was poor. The text says: In paradisum deducant te Angeli; in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres, et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Ierusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere æternam habeas requiem.(May the angels lead you to paradise and at your coming may the martyrs receive you and may they lead you into the Holy City Jerusalem. May a choir of Angels receive you and with Lazarus who once was poor, may you have eternal rest).

18 Replies to “Pondering the Great Reversal That Is Coming”

  1. I think that God is telling us that He is going to take care of us if we are just. He is telling the wealthy to make good use of their wealth – to be fair and just. A man is not condemned for being “first.” He is not condemned because God bestowed propsperity upon him. He is condemned for not doing for others as God has done for Him, at least as is humanly possible and reasonable. True?

  2. Oh, Msgr. good post. I recently endured about 6 weeks of uncertainty as my husband underwent evaluation for a tumor that proved to be benign in the long run–but for six weeks, I worried for him and for me and was devastated at the thought of possibly losing him to cancer. Many prayed for us and I am sure that is what helped me retain some balance as we waited. Today I hear of a friend who does have cancer and I have something like survivor’s guilt. I am thankful to have been spared and thus blessed, but wonder why and hope when the time comes I am not spared, I will still see the blessing. Great post just when I needed it.

  3. The contemplation of the last things has always been an inducement for better living in the here and now–well said Msgr. Pope-

  4. Beautiful post Msgr. Pope. Just over a week ago my mother-in-law passed away at our home under the care of her daughter. Janice, (m-i-law) had a very hard life including losing two children to violent deaths and that is just the tip of the iceberg of her suffering. In her last hours, my son called from college (Christendom) where his final had a question on the Sacrament of Annointing. He wanted us to ask the priest to come to the house. We called and Father dropped everything and drove to our home. Our parish is under the care of the FSSP. Father G immediately enrolled Janice in the Brown Scapular and gave her the Sacrament. Her breathing was very labored and he asked to give her a special blessing for those near death. Father gave the blessing in latin and then in english so Janice would understand. Just as he finished, Janice opened her eyes and looked at Father. She smiled, gave a small cough and then literally passed away with a look of peace on her face. It is hard to explain how wonderful her passing was without sounding like it didn’t also hurt. But for the three of us with her, at this last moment on this earth, Janice received her Reversal and we saw the Peace of Christ descend upon her.

    Thank you Msgr. Pope.

  5. Msgr, beautifully put, and greatly needed, thanks! Here are some of my favorite verses on the subject:
    James 1:9-12 “The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

    Also James 5:1-12. Though these aren’t very consoling; rather, warning and counseling…

  6. The difficulty I have with this approach is that, at least for me, it constantly makes me think that God, when He does bless me, is at the same time winking at me because the “blessing” is in fact a “curse” of sorts. For, if everything that I’m blessed with here and now sets me among the “first,” then it’s no blessing at all. If everything that I’m given comes with the catch that it’s going to land me in some mansion far less spacious than someone else’s, then it just seems to lead to a constant anxiety. Other spiritual traditions – I’m thinking of Ignatian spirituality, for example – encourages us to be grateful, to see everything as a gift. But how can I give thanks for something if it’s going to come back and bite me?

    On this view, nothing seems like it’s a true gift because it’s at the same time going to land me farther away from God for all eternity, by virtue of having received it. Someone above mentioned “survivor’s guilt” – I think to go along with this theological point of view regarding blessings, at least for me, would lead to perpetual “blessing guilt.” There would no legitimate way that I could praise or thank God for a blessing without fear that it’s a gift that comes with a ‘price’ that, frankly, I’m not interested in paying because, most of all, I want to be close to God in heaven.

    Other spiritual traditions, I think, would affirm that God can in fact use the blessings He gives us to draw us closer to Him rather than evidence of where we will stand in the context of “The Great Reversal.” That God could draw one to Him through blessings, while not the final word on what should constitute one’s faith, would appear to be seriously undermined by this paralyzing blessing guilt that would come about from having to live always with the fear of worring about ending up on the wrong side of “The Great Reversal.”

    Further, if taken to a certain extreme, I could see myself getting into this kind of thinking: Let’s say I suffer from depression and, while desiring to be rid of that sadness while at times even seems to hamper me spiritually and make me self-absorbed, I consider how receiving the “blessing” of help or medicine or healing or therapy would in fact be a “curse” according to this theology; for, by receiving a blessing now, I am in fact rising from my place among the “least,” which I don’t want. And yet, so much otherwise in the Catholic tradition affirms being good stewards of our humanity and can boast of the value that Catholics have brought to the medical field and to the assistance of others who suffer. What confusion!

    Or, to extend it to others, if I consider a friend or neighbor who suffers in some way (perhaps someone is poor and without enough money for rent), perhaps whereas from one angle I could justify helping him through Jesus’ call to be charitable and feed the hungry, give shelter, etc., from another angle, I could consider how that “blessing” may in fact move my friend or neighbor away from their place among the “least” and so farther from God – thus, my help may in fact be a “curse.”

    I may be simplifying things somewhat, but I think there is a legitimate concern with the theology presented here – it is, at least to me, if nothing else, very confusing.

    1. I think it is better to think of it this way:
      When we receive a lot of blessings and gifts from God, our thoughts should be, “You entrusted me with so much. Show me how I could share it with others.” Because whatever gift we receive in this life was not meant for us to keep. We are only stewards of it.

      I also believe that when we feel ‘guilt’ about being blessed – it is the evil one planting the doubt in our mind. Our gifts and blessing are actually a call (from God) to action.

      1. Thanks Zen. I also struggle with my abundant blessings at times. But I’ve come to realize that a blessing comes from God, to be shared with others.

  7. Msgr., thanks for the post. I was just tempted yesterday by thoughts of how much more I could have to freely spend if I didn’t give the percentage I do to charity and the Church! God is so good to use you to send me this reminder.

  8. Neat post, Monsignor. I often have the same problems/difficulties that Patrick has.. Maybe what St. Paul says about having learned to live in all circumstances is a way out.

  9. Another excellent post, Monsignor. Our Lord often spoke about the ‘taking away’ even as He reassured us of the true End of our stories…if we only ask of it, “today, you will be with be in Paradise.” (Thank you, also, for writing about your sister — I, too, have a sister — my only one — who suffers as your sister did. I am continually placing her in the hands of St. Anthony “the lost things/people” and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta “patron of those who struggle in the spiritual darkness”.)

  10. Beautiful Msgr. Thank you for sharing not only the Gospel of God, but your very life as well. We treasure God’s gift in you. I recently lost my job- such a little thing. I continue to pray and offer the fight, day by day, to God. May we all contend together for victory in Jesus Christ! Faithful until death. Blessings to all reading. -D

  11. Just when one thinks one has Made It, one gets humbled.

    I cycled in to work in observance of Ride Your Bike to Work Day. Near the end of my ride, when I was congratulating myself on not having to walk my bike up a hill that closely resembled an Alp and/or having a heart attack, an older gentleman blew right past me.

    I’ll bet that he isn’t reeking of Ben-Gay, as I am.

  12. Another excellent article, Msgr. Pope. I pray for those children whose parents are divorced. Their suffering goes largely unseen, but it is there nonetheless – and it goes deep. I understand that close to 50% of marriages in the US end in divorce. What are we doing to our children? Can they understand the concept of love when they themselves have been betrayed? Lord help us. Help us to re-discover the sacredness of the sacrament of matrimony; and give our children what they truly deserve – a mum and a dad.

  13. This reminds me of a comment that I recently posted on a physics ‘blog in response to an article that reported a probable resolution to the sometimes confusing aspect of wave/particle duality at http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2012/mar/29/quantum-interference-the-movie
    The picture of an upside down (and downside up) house in a similar, previous article here was a great help in the inspiraton of the teadhing model.
    I’ve copied and pasted;
    This is an example of one set of rules applied differently but, It seems that I’ve often heard that, between quantum and classic and between spiritual and physical there are two different sets of rules. Thinking of how a hot equatorial area and a frozen polar area both exhibit the earth’s overall climate pattern in two different ways I devised this demonstration model to show how … one set of rules with local differences, only appears to be two sets of rules;
    Imagine two sticks which are each six inches long; one of thick wood and one of very thin metal. The thick wooden one weighs more than the thin metal one even though it has less density. Now we but the two together end to end and fasten them securely into one straight stick twelve inches long. Drill a hole through the newly formed stick across the splice and push a close fitting (but not too snug) rod through it so that, when the rod is horizontal the stick is vertical. Then lower the stick into a vat of water in such a way as to keep the rod horizontal and the stick swinging freely to horizontal, vertical or in between. The heavier wooden portion will swing to the top; even though it’s heavier than the metal portion; because it has less density than the same volume of water and is buoyed up by the water while the denser metal portion is not.
    Now, one could raise the stick/rod combination up until it’s out of the water while, again, keeping the rod horizontal and the stick swinging freely. At any time that the stick is horizontal it will be at right angle to the horizontal position of the rod. The metal end then swings to the top because it’s lighter and the wooden end swings to the bottom because it’s the heavier of the two.
    Both ends of the stick are less dense than the air above the vat so that buoyancy isn’t a factor and … the greatest becomes the least and the least becomes the greatest.
    The point which I’m seeking to make here is that sometimes we can become so used to one environment that we can give in to a temptation to negate different results from different applications of the same overall set of reaction standards. We could even say that the spiritual and the physical are more different, in their state of existence, than they truly are – although I only suspect; as opposed to being certain; that this applies to the least/greatest.

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